The atmosphere across Zimbabwe's major urban areas after President Robert Mugabe swore into office opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister was more of relief than of outright celebration. Following months of backwards and forwards negotiations between the country's three main political parties, the fact that the politicians did finally agree to form an inclusive government infused hope for economic turnaround and a social transformation of sorts.
Naturally, optimism is high that the new government, which sees Mugabe retained as state president, Tsvangirai as prime ministers, and Professor Arthur Mutambara and Ms Thokozani Khupe as deputy prime ministers, will create immediate changes in the livelihoods of ordinary people.
Analysts, however, have cautioned that there are no quick fixes, and several variables would determine the success--or lack thereof--of a political solution that is roundly being hailed as a benchmark in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).
The unstated question on many people's minds, though, is whether Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara will be able to work well together in light of the abrasive nature of their relationship in past years.
The chair of the University of Zimbabwe's department of politics and administration, Dr. Joseph Kurebwa, has said the state of the economy will likely compel all the parties to co-operate despite their differences. "All sides are showing real commitment. The signal has been that the economy is very close to collapse and they have all responded positively to that signal and I believe this provides sufficient commonality of purpose," said Dr. Kurebwa, who added that any economic and social recovery would only be noticeable after about six months.
On the day Tsvangirai assumed office, opposition legislator Murisi Zwizwai, who represents the Harare Central constituency in the House of Assembly, warned: "People have very high expectations but I would urge them to adjust these, because this is not going to be an easy road. They should be patient and understand that a lot of work needs to be done to revitalise the economy and get social services functioning as they should. So no one should expect immediate results. But the harder we all work, the sooner the results will be noticed. Let us give this government a chance."
Unfortunately, indications are that few people outside the country are giving it a chance. Already, the European Union and the United States have stood aloof after weeks of making it plain that they would not support any government that included President Mugabe. This could set the stage for a continued stand-off on the international scene.
Perhaps it was with this in mind that several speakers at Tsvangirai's inauguration ceremony said there was a need for the international community to support the new government. Apart from Mugabe's re-assertion that economic sanctions imposed by Britain, the EU, the USA and their allies must be lifted to pave the way for full co-operation, the chairman of the African Union Commission Dr Jean Ping also made the same statement.
Swaziland's King Mswati III, who chairs the SADC's influential Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, added his voice to the lift-the-sanctions chorus, as did Zimbabwe's new deputy premier, Prof Mutambara, and the former South African president Thabo Mbeki, the man who against many odds brokered the power-sharing deal that created the inclusive government.
Mbeki's successor in South Africa and the current chairman of the SADC, President Kgalema Motlanthe, in his congratulatory message, said: "South Africa and indeed the entire SADC region stands ready to support the people of Zimbabwe morally, politically and economically as they embark on this difficult path of reconstruction and development of their country. South Africa reiterates the call for the lifting of sanctions against [Zimbabwe] to help create a climate conducive for the reconstruction and development of the country. …